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The Best VPN Services: 10 Top VPNs Compared
Updated: Oct 07, 2021 / Article by: Timothy Shim
Choosing the absolute best of the best isn’t an easy task. Much depends on extensive tests carried out, but a major portion of it also depends on you – the user. Everyone has different needs when it comes to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service and like it or not, it isn’t easy to find one that is the best in everything.
In general, though, having gone through a lot of VPNs I have found that there are a few big names that have come up over and again and rated extremely highly in all key categories. This includes privacy and anonymity, speed and stability, customer service levels, technical features and of course, extra features plus pricing options.
Compare VPN Plans & Pricing (Updated Sep 2021)
For overall excellence in almost all categories, there are three VPN providers you should be looking at in 2021: NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN.
NordVPN saw an extremely exciting 2019 and enters this new year strongly. The brand has proven its resilience by overcoming some difficulties and stepped forward with a slew of new products and services.
Having been in the market for a while now, NordVPN has already shown its mettle. This serves them well as they bring forward NordPass for consumers and NordVPN Teams for business users.
Still, their strength remains in the core VPN service which already fields a remarkable network of over 5,500 servers in 60+ countries around the world. This makes them one of the biggest, baddest dogs in the VPN industry.
They offer users stable speeds, reliable performance, excellent anonymity options and great price options. Even with slight price adjustments, you can sign up for their 24-month plan for as little as $3.67 per month.
Surfshark has taken us by storm and for a newcomer to the VPN scene, it is making waves. This 2018-founded service is fast, powerful and comes at a hard-to-beat price of $2.49 per month.
Based in the British Virgin Islands, Surfshark has even now already grown its network to include over 3,200 servers in more than 60 countries. A point of note is that it also includes the Shadowsocks protocol which helps users in mainland China get past the China Great Firewall.
The entire Surfshark experience from signup to sign on was very quick and pain-free. Even if you might encounter potential issues there shouldn’t be cause for alarm as their customer support is on the ball and will quickly resolve any issues that might arise.
Of course, there are also a ton of extras that come with the service which makes it number one on this list.
Extra features make Surfshark an extremely attractive option such as CleanWeb (block ads and phishing attempts), connect to unlimited devices and the near giveaway prices it sells long term subscriptions at.
Keep a close eye on Surfshark as their service quality is excellent and once they put in a few more years of excellent service, they may rise to the top of our list. As it is, they are an excellent budget-oriented option.
ExpressVPN is one of the most trusted and reputable brands in the VPN business and is in fact, one of our top choices. Based in the British Virgin Islands, their service is reliable, secure and stable.
Hosting more than 3,000 servers in 94 countries around the globe, its extensive network offers users from almost any country blazingly fast access points. The list of capabilities it provides is long and distinguished, including top-notch encryption, access to content on geolocation-limited services such as Netflix and the BBC iPlayer and support for P2P file sharing.
Of course, there are also a ton of extras that come with the service which makes it number one on this list.
Prices start from $8.32 per month onwards, which unfortunately is on the high side.
Once a top contender in the world of VPNs, IPVanish has lost a lot of its shine since the logging fiasco of 2016. Today it is owned by a different company and still offers users a chance to run traffic through over a thousand servers in more than 60 countries.
With 256-bit encryption, support for torrenting and free SOCKS5 proxy, they also offer users great agility in service access on their network. Geolocation-restricted services are a bit of a touch-and-go but overall, IPVanish does an overall ok job.
Prices for IPVanish start from $3.25 per month on an annual plan.
This name may not be overly familiar to many of you, but I was probably as surprised as you are feeling now. At first glance the TorGuard client will seem a little old-school and not as polished around the edges as our top three on our Best VPN list.
Yet the multiple feature options it has built into the service plus impressive connection speeds make this easily one of my top choices. The ability to adjust encryption levels may not seem like a great idea but it does allow users to balance security and anonymity according to their needs.
TorGuard is also beginning to offer access to the next-generation WireGuard protocol, which means that it is living on the cutting edge of VPN technology.
This VPN service provider has one of the most outstanding long-term plans on offer which I have ever seen. If you’re looking to buy in to a VPN and stick with it, FastestVPN comes as low as 83 cents a month on a five-year plan.
What makes it really special is that they have undergone extensive improvements and are much closer to the speeds their name lays claim to. All said, technical specifications are top-notch, performance is pretty good, and it comes with a 7-day money back guarantee as well if you have a change of heart. The only downside to it which I have seen is that it has occasional issues with overcoming geolocation blockers and it doesn't have the network distribution the top dogs boast of – yet.
FastestVPN Pros & Cons
Pros of FastestVPN
Dirt-cheap long-term plans
No logging policy
High availability and uptime
Cons of FastestVPN
Limited number of servers
Occasional glitches in geolocation-limited streaming
7. Private Internet Access (PIA)
PrivateInternetAccess (or PIA) has a surprisingly large network of servers – in fact, more than TorGuard has. This is great news since in many cases, VPN speed is affected by physical distance from VPN servers.
It also comes with a very out-of-the-way client which tried to make itself as unobtrusive as possible on your system. This could make it either fantastic – or very infuriating for you – depending on your disposition towards the matter. Prices start from $2.42 per month on an annual plan.
PIA Pros & Cons
Massive server network
Integrates extras such as adblocker and anti-malware
SOCKS5 Proxy included
Great for media streaming
Difficult to get to settings
Limited user Interface
8. Hotspot Shield
Equipping users with military-grade encryption and hosting over 2,000 servers in 25 countries, Hotspot shield is one of the bigger VPN service providers around. It is also decently priced at only $7.99 per month on an annual plan (with a 45-day money back guarantee!)
They also support almost all devices available today, from desktops to mobiles so you can go ahead and run it on probably all your dives at home at the same time – up to a limit of 5 per account.
PureVPN prides itself on its excellence in media streaming and bypassing geolocation blocks. This is great for Netflix and other services of the kind. Interestingly it has also grown past the standard desktop and mobile device support to branch out onto other lesser devices. This includes support for Kodi and even Chromebooks.
It also has a huge server network covering 140 countries worldwide – one of the most prolific around. P2P is also supported along with excellent encryption and highly secure servers. Prices for PureVPN start from $3.33 per month on a two years plan.
PureVPN Pros & Cons
Dedicated P2P servers
Servers optimized for streaming
Headquartered in Hong Kong
Based in Switzerland, VyperVPN is a no-fuss, no-muss service provider that has been around for a long time. They also have the distinction of owning (not renting) their own servers, which means they have more control over the security of their services.
For those who are concerned about getting around geolocation limiters on services such as Netflix, this can be an interesting choice. They have developed their own protocol called Chameleon which is specially designed to help you hide the fact that you’re using a VPN service!
It’s easy to use and checks many of the right boxes at only $2.50 per month on a two years plan especially when Chameleon protocol is included.
VyprVPN Pros & Cons
Based in Switzerland
Full access to Netflix and other location-limited content
No third-party-owned servers
Easy to use app
Some level of logging
Slow support system
How to Choose the Best VPN? Key Features to Look Out for
There are a LOT of VPN service providers out there, so when shopping for a service provider it is important to keep in mind exactly what your requirements are. If you’re simply trying to bypass certain censorship curtains, there are cheaper alternatives, such as a HTTP / HTTPS Proxy.
VPNs are the highest form of normal consumer privacy and anonymity protection, They are designed to keep you safe, secure, and ensure that your web traffic (such as browsing activities and downloads) are kept personal.
Since virtual private networks can be used with many purposes in mind however, how each service provider targets their customers plays a role in their product design. For example, TorGuard was built with an aim to help protect those constantly on Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing networks.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at specific areas of VPNs you should take into consideration when evaluating one.
Key VPN Feature #1- Anonymity
While it is true that the Internet has been around for ages, technology has been evolving rapidly. Today, companies around the world are beginning to track users digitally to help them through data analysis.
In some cases, governments have also been known or suspected to be tracking users digitally. If you think that won’t happen to you because you live in country X, which is wonderful, think again.
There are known government surveillance projects being carried out in countries as restrictive as China and Russia all the way to neutral Switzerland! You can be tracked through emails, registering on websites, and yes, even by simply visiting any location on the web.
Frightening, isn’t it?
One of the core functions of a VPN service is to help you maintain anonymity on the Internet. It does this by hiding your IP address, masking your location, encrypting data that is transmitted between you and sites on the Internet and by ensuring that even your VPN service provider doesn’t keep track of when and what you do.
More VPN service providers today are also adopting the acceptance of anonymous payment options such as crypto currency and cash, or even gift certificates in some cases.
Personally, one item I keep an eagle eye out for is the country in which the VPN registers its business. Many VPNs say they do not log user activity, but some countries have mandatory data retention laws. I prefer to choose a VPN provider that registers in a country where the service provider is not legally obligated to keep records. Examples of locations such as this are Panama or the British Virgin Islands.
Recommended VPN for best anonymity:
NordVPN – Being based in Panama, this VPN company falls under the country's jurisdiction (which happens to have not much in the way of data retention laws).
Surfshark– Surfshark accepts all major credit cards for payments (VISA, Master, AMEX, Discover) and offers different anonymous payment options including Bitcoin, GooglePay, and AliPay.
Key VPN Feature #2- Security
From Encryption protocols to built in security features of client software, VPNs today offer security on many levels. Of course, the most critical is the security and integrity of the connection it maintains between you and the Internet though.
One more feature that many VPN service providers offer is a kill switch. This means that any time the connection between your device and the VPN server is broken or lost for any reason, the VPN client will stop all data from going out or coming in to your device.
VPNs have also been around long enough that some websites or even governments have experience in recognizing VPN activity. The VPNs service providers also know this and have introduced a feature called Stealthing, Ghosting or VPN Obfuscation (terminology varies, but they generally mean the same thing). This helps to confuse systems that are actively looking for VPN users.
Some VPNs go to great lengths to help their customers hide their identities and have come up with a feature called double VPN or multi-hop. This means you connect to one VPN server and the connection is then routed through another VPN server before hitting the Internet. Aside from the routing, the encryption is doubled as well which adds an extra layer of security.
Aside from this, additional features are being added to many VPN services all the time such as Malware scanning, web banner blocking and more. While all of these are handy, never forget the core purpose – keeping your connection secure and anonymous.
Recommended VPN for best security:
NordVPN – NordVPN employs military-grade encryption and supports split tunneling, network lock kill switch, and DNS leak protection.
Surfshark – Surfshark offers an automatic kill switch, double encryption, and auto block ads and malware. Also, they also support a little-known protocol named Shadowsocks, which can be very helpful for users in mainland China to work their way past the Great Firewall.
Key VPN Feature #3 – Speed and Stability
Here’s the first thing you need to realise before signing up with any VPN service provider; your Internet speeds will take a hit. There is no way around it, that’s simply how the technology works – for now.
However, a VPN which has many servers which are spread over a good number of locations worldwide will allow you to mitigate speed deficiencies somewhat. Take for example a provider such as NordVPN versus iPredator. Nord has over 5,000 servers spread across 58 countries while iPredator has a handful in one country alone (Sweden).
No matter how great iPredator’s servers are, if your actual location is far from Sweden, it is likely that your Internet speeds will suffer terribly when connected to it. At the very least, your connection latency will increase. As a rule of thumb, the further away your actual location from the VPN server, the more your speeds will be affected and the higher your latency.
The hardware you are running the VPN service on also needs to have significant processing power, as VPN encryption is CPU-intensive. For example, if you were to run the VPN on a router verus on a computer, you would get much faster speeds on the computer.
My laptop is a low-powered one with an Intel i5-8250U processor and can only manage roughly 170Mbps to 200Mbps at 128-bit. A VPN connection on a router might give you a speed of roughly 5Mbps to 15Mbps.
Keep in mind that many different things work together to affect overall Internet speed – it’s not always the VPN service provider’s fault if your speed drops!
* Updates: We have developed a script and auto run consistent VPN speed tests for major VPN brands – check out our test results here (new window, direct to hideandseek.online).
Recommended VPN for best speed:
ExpressVPN – Hosting more than 3,000 servers across 94 countries around the globe, its extensive network offers users from almost any country amazingly fast access points.
ExpressVPN speed test
Key VPN Feature #4 – Location Spoofing
Remember that it’s not always about speed, but also availability. If you want to stream Netflix US content for example, you’re going to want a VPN which has servers in that country. Likewise, in the UK if you’re looking at streaming iBBC content.
If you’re in a country which censors the Internet heavily, or are travelling to one, such as China, make sure you choose a VPN service that is good at getting around blocks. It is especially difficult in China since almost everything online is censored and all VPN services except state-run or approved ones are banned.
To overcome this, some VPN companies use server obfuscation which can help in bypassing some internet restrictions such as network firewalls. This ensures that your VPN works in those countries with strong censorship.
Recommended VPN for widest location choices
NordVPN – With more than 5,000 servers in 58 countries, NordVPN works in places where internet access is restricted and strong censorship is in place including China and the Middle East region.
Key VPN Feature #5 – P2P & Torrenting Support
Finally, there is support for P2P, which some providers will not allow. File sharing is often bandwidth intensive, but P2P users in some countries really need VPN services. In these cases there are specialists such as TorGuard who cater for them. Others such as NordVPN limit P2P users to certain servers.
I have found that for the most part, many VPNs are quite good about P2P usage nowadays and speeds have not really been throttled. So far only one provider I have tried has been extremely strict about P2P usage, cutting my torrent speeds down to zero if I wasn’t connected to a file-sharing approved server.
*Caution: Some VPN service providers totally do not allow P2P usage, make sure you check before buying in to one if this is what you’re looking for!
P2P friendly VPN services
TorGuard – Best speed logs, great value, and get around torrent throttling by most ISPs.
Key VPN Feature #6 – Customer Service
As with any industry, the VPN community has its top dogs and low dogs in customer service. I’m not going to name who they are here, but rest assured I’ll call them out on this in individual VPN reviews.
One thing I need to stress on is that for a service that is as technical in nature as a VPN, there is absolutely no excuse for a company that specializes in it not to offer good customer support. It is necessary. If you’re signing up for a VPN service, make sure you go through some reviews to see how they do in customer support.
That some rely on a ticketing system is bad enough, but they may simply ages to respond. Can you imagine sitting at home and getting increasingly frustrated as each email comes back to you after a day or two – remember, you are paying for the privilege of using their service.
Why a Lifetime VPN Might Not be a Good Deal
Some VPN service providers have this concept of providing a ‘Lifetime Deal’ on their services. While this might sound like a steal for those of you imagining a lifetime VPN for perhaps $100 – stop to consider it first.
VPNs by their very nature require companies to sink a huge amount of money into product development, hardware, infrastructure, plus other costs. If they’re going to take your money once and give you a lifetime of service – what happens when that pool of funds starts to dry out?
Think of it as a ponzi scheme, where your service is being supported by new sign ups to the scheme. When the scheme becomes too top-heavy for new funds to support, it collapses. In financial ponzi schemes that will result in financial loss.
In a VPN it’s not that obvious. You may notice symptoms without the service going out of business. Slower speeds, difficulties connecting, and worse of all – potential security loopholes caused by inadequate service and support.
Alternatively, the service provider might subsidize its income by selling your data, which is even worse than providing substandard services. So before you slap down your credit card for a lifetime plan, think of the potential danger that might arise from a plan like that. Nobody can afford to give away a service for free.
The business world has transformed greatly in modern times and elements such as BYOD and remote work have added to existing security risks for businesses. Digital nomads also come under the same risk umbrella, resulting in a far greater need of secure data transmissions and privacy.
NordVPN as far as we know are one of a handful of providers who are taking the needs of small business users into consideration. This comes into play with NordVPN Teams which can be bought in license packs.
Like their consumer VPN, NordVPN Teams adds in some administrative functionality to help business owners set up accounts for their teams to use the VPN service. This helps them secure all corporate communications and allows them to rove securely on WiFi connections even out of the office.
The company also has satellite products which can extend business users’ security umbrella even further such as NordPass and NordLocker. This places them in a one-stop-shop command position for many business users.
2. VPN for Students
Recommended VPN for students: NordVPN (15% student discount)
We’ve all been there as students; always short on cash and getting into trouble. Thanks to the explosion of digital and social media, security and privacy on the net has become a more urgent need for students around the world.
Although in most cases students would opt for simply the cheapest service, why settle for that when for a dollar more you could buy in to one of the best VPNs in market. NordVPN fits this category nicely and pricing aside, offers students a whole bunch of extra features.
Their mobile apps and browser extensions also make them ideal for students on the go, allowing secure work on their laptops and smartphones anywhere on campus.
Just to be clear, when we talk about ‘cheapest’, it isn’t the VPN service that offers the most cut-throat pricing. There are tons of cheap VPNs out there that can’t quite make the cut. What we’ve found is one that offers an excellent balance of pricing versus functionality.
Let's be honest – a VPN network isn't cheap to run. It requires companies to not just have the hardware in place at a global level, but also the software to help with establishing secure connections.
For cheapest VPN service, the provider we’ve chosen is Surfshark. In all honesty, it was a close challenge between them and NordVPN for cheapest provider. Both of these vendors have great features and a pricing to match.
While some may say that there are other options available for prices even less than a dollar a month, we really don’t recommend them. Remember – businesses need to be profitable and if a provider is charging you peanuts – it isn’t going to have much money left to invest in developing their product further.
Compare SurfShark prices with other VPNs
Surfshark’s two-year plan also nicely fills in a gap that seems to be mostly missing. Most VPN providers encourage users to sign up for three or more years to get optimal discounts.
If you’re considering using Surfshark on a month to month payment plan, the fees are around the same as any other VPN service on the market. Where it really shines is in their two-year plan (24 months) which comes at only $2.49 per month (see comparison table below).
Also, I checked with Surfshark support staff and confirmed that this price that you sign on for will be valid when it comes to renewal as well. This means that if you sign on for the two-year plan at $47.70, there is no price hike on renewal!
Some media streaming services restrict content based on location due to various factors such as country-specific laws, censorship laws, or licensing agreements. This includes the BBC’s iPlayer and Netflix. To get around this, a VPN service helps but not just any VPN will do.
Some VPNs are better at it than others, since the majority simply rely on server locations. The best will actively rotate server IPs and carry out whitelisting activities on previously banned IPs. In fact, some VPNs know they can’t support Netflix and do honestly state they can’t in their terms of service.
With its excellent speed capabilities and very broad server network range, ExpressVPN and NordVPN are likely the two best in the business for streaming media from most sources – not just Netflix. Its speed can easily cater to HD video and Netflix is definitely at the top of most people’s ‘want’ list.
Android is one of the most prolific mobile operating systems in the market today and the number of users it is gaining increases all the time. This is one of the reasons why there are increasing number of VPN service providers who are supporting this market.
The matter is given even more urgency when you realise that simply because of the nature of Android – it is intended for mobile devices – that a VPN service becomes an even greater necessity. Public Wi-Fi is notoriously dangerous to use
For Android VPNs, ExpressVPN is a great choice because its dedicated app has several excellent features. From a snappy design to power smart location picket, it is designed to make your life as easy and yet secure as possible at the same time.
Some of you may have heard that VPNs make P2P file sharing (Torrenting) faster but that isn’t entirely true. What is true though is that torrenting in some countries could get you slapped with significant fines or even jail time if you’re caught torrenting the wrong materials.
In many cases there are also Internet Service Providers that frown on torrenting since they claim P2P file sharers are eating up most of the available bandwidth.This has often resulted in throttling, reducing the speed of P2P users.
A good VPN – such as TorGuard, will help you get around torrent throttling by these ISPs. In fact, when using a VPN to throttle, your ISP won’t even know you are torrenting.
There are many countries in this world where digital freedom is not just frowned upon by the government, but actively suppressed. One outstanding example of this lies in Venezuela, a country which has seen censorship soar, along with crackdowns on digital freedom.
The country ranked extremely low in political rights and civil liberties, meaning residents practically do not have the right to express themselves openly, nor can they access much digital content that is freely published, even news.
Undergoing an economic collapse, the leadership of Venezuela’s response has simply been to crack down harder on its populace. In these extreme situations, a VPN can be the only way independent reporters can broadcast any real news out from a country essentially under total lockdown.
Aside from the usual mainstream protocols, Surfshark also offers the use of Shadownsocks, which helps it overcome block vulnerabilities slightly better than other VPNs on our list. This makes it a better option for use in highly regulated environments such as Venezuela.
FAQs on VPN Services and Technology
What is the number 1 VPN?
Our reviews have found that NordVPN is very likely the best choice among VPNs. It gives users a very powerful mix of features and reasonable pricing, plus the company continually upgrades its services.
Which free VPN is best?
Free VPNs aren't really recommended. There are some excellent paid options that charge very reasonable fees which are safer than using free services which might sell your private data.
Do I really need a VPN?
Given the decreasing freedoms many people are experiencing on the net along with increased data collection, it is always advisable to keep a VPN connection active.
Can I pay monthly for a VPN?
Yes, VPNs do have monthly plans but pricing on these are often expensive. Most will offer steep discounts on longer-terms plans, resulting in them being much more affordable.
Since VPNs are designed for security and privacy they may affect the speed potential of your Internet connection. Some other areas that might suffer include latency and application compatibility.
About Timothy Shim
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.